Long-Gun Registry Bill: Final Vote Ends The Long-Gun Registry
OTTAWA - Federal Conservatives erupted in cheers Wednesday after finally securing House of Commons approval to scrap the controversial long-gun registry.
The Harper government used its majority to pass the bill by a vote of 159-130, with the support of two maverick New Democrats — John Rafferty and Bruce Hyer.
All other NDP, Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and Green MPs voted against it.
The vote effectively puts the registry on life support; all that remains is for the Senate to pull the plug. Since the Conservatives enjoy a commanding majority in the upper chamber as well, the registry's fate is sealed.
"They've got the majority and unless something extraordinary happens, it will pass," acknowledged Liberal Senate leader James Cowan.
Cowan said Liberal senators will ensure the bill is examined thoroughly at committee and that both supporters and opponents of the registry are given sufficient time to be heard one more time. But he said Liberals will not "delay, obstruct or filibuster" the bill.
However, Quebec served noticed that the moment the bill is enacted, the province will launch court action to prevent the registry records from being destroyed.
Since taking office in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly vowed to kill the long-gun registry. But he's been thwarted until now by the opposition parties, which held the upper hand in the Commons until Harper captured his coveted majority in last May's election.
"Many of us have waited for this day for a very long time," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a news conference earlier Wednesday.
He said it's the end of a campaign that began for him 15 years ago, when he was attorney general of Manitoba. And he called it an important day for Conservatives, who have opposed the registry for years.
Toews said the registry — created by Jean Chretien's Liberal government following the massacre of 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989 — is "a billion-dollar boondoggle" that does nothing but penalize law-abiding hunters and farmers.
"It does nothing to help put an end to gun crime, nor has it saved one Canadian life," he argued.
However, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has argued strenuously in favour of keeping the registry, calling it an essential law enforcement tool. The association says police consult the registry, on average, more than 10,000 times a day, often to determine the possible presence of a shotgun or rifle in a home where they've received a domestic violence call.
In the Commons, Conservative MPs gave a particularly rousing cheer to Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz, a longtimer crusader against the gun registry whose office once issued a news release referring to the police chief's association as a "cult."
While the Tories were congratulating themselves, the end of the registry was being mourned by others.
"This is a sad day for victims of violence," said interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel.
Turmel said there will be "consequences" for Rafferty and Hyer, both of whom represent Thunder Bay, Ont., ridings, for defying their party's line on the registry.
It's unclear what more she can do to the pair, who also broke ranks when the registry bill was put to a second reading vote last November. At that time, Turmel suspended their travel privileges and banned them from participating in question period, sitting on committees or making public statements.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae slammed the Tories' "triumphalism" and said the more they celebrate the registry's demise, "the more they distance themselves from where most Canadians are on this question."
Women's groups and victims of gun violence expressed outrage.
The Coalition for Gun Control reiterated its complaint that the bill goes beyond simply ending the registration of shot guns and rifles, including the semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 used at Ecole Polytechnique.
The lobby group said gun dealers will no longer have to record information on the guns they sell and to whom, "severely crippling the ability of the police to trace firearms recovered in crime." Moreover, it said individuals will be able to acquire unlimited numbers of long guns without having to prove they have valid firearms licences.
The Tories were planning a reception on Parliament Hill following Wednesday's vote to celebrate the end of the registry.
News of the celebration drew condemnation in Quebec, where support for the registry is strong.
The leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois began question period in the National Assembly by reading off the names of the 14 women gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique.
"After creating an online countdown clock announcing the end of the registry, we hear Conservative MPs will celebrate their victory tonight like it was a hockey match," said PQ Leader Pauline Marois. "It's shameful, disgusting and revolting."
Quebec is ready to go to court to block the Conservative plan to destroy the existing registry records once the legislation becomes law.
"We can't launch a suit to get the data before the law receives (royal) assent," Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil said.
"Our people have been duly advised that, the moment that assent occurs, legal action will be tabled in order to preserve the data."
Toews was adamant that the information will be erased as soon as possible after the bill becomes law.
He said the government can't shoot down the registry while keeping the records, the essence of the registry, in existence.
He said Quebec can start its own registry, but can't expect any federal help.
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.